I recently read an article likening the experience of postpartum depression to that of grief. Katherine Stone, who won a Media Award from Mental Health America for her blog post, applied Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief to PPD. As a therapist who treats mothers struggling with postpartum depression, it is also my experience that the process is met in stages, similar to grief. Each phase unearths new feelings and different struggles.
Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief are as follows:
These stages are not typically passed through linearly; rather, one moves through them in waves, without order or timeline. Like grief, each person experiences postpartum depression differently. This is important (notice the italics). You cannot expect your symptoms of postpartum depression to follow the same course as someone else’s. What worked to alleviate their PPD may not work for you, and visa versa. What initiates your recovery may not have worked for them. We do not put expectations on grief, and in the same way, we cannot put them on postpartum depression. Here is an example of what each stage may look like:
- Denial: “This is not postpartum depression. Motherhood is just not as easy for me as it is for others. Once I start sleeping more this will improve.”
- Anger: “Why do other moms look like they’re enjoying every minute with their babies, and I’m miserable? I shouldn’t have to seek treatment for this!”
- Bargaining: “Maybe if I start scheduling a little more ‘me’ time I’ll start feeling better. Maybe this will pass once my baby turns one or starts sleeping through the night.”
- Depression: “My family deserves better than what I can give them.” It is extremely difficult to ask for help when you are in this stage. Not only do you feel unworthy of help, but you also don’t have the energy or motivation to seek it. This is the time you may start to question if you’re family would be better off without you or even feel suicidal. Remember, you are not alone, and these symptoms are treatable.
- Acceptance: “This is temporary. I will not feel this way forever. I don’t have to be miserable!” This stage usually comes once you’ve sought treatment, found relief, and discovered you are not alone in your feelings.
With help, you will reach acceptance, and you will find recovery. As Katherine so eloquently asserts: you will feel the love for your child that was always there, temporarily buried by postpartum depression. The pleasure and enjoyment of motherhood will surface once PPD is effectively treated. A temporary inability to access this joy does not make you a bad mother. It merely means you are one of many who are struggling with postpartum depression—one in five to be exact. You are not alone. What you are feeling is common. What you are feeling is treatable.